One of our first jobs in editing a particular work of Cather's for the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition is to assemble individual copies from as many editions and impressions as we can find. We look for the potentially relevant forms of the text that could contain changes made by the author. This usually means finding copies issued during the author's lifetime. For example, in the course of preparing Death Comes for the Archbishop for editing we have collected the serial publication in the periodical Forum, collated copies of the first issue of the first edition, checked impressions of the Canadian edition, identified copies of the second and third printing of the first edition in order to confirm the correction of errors we know were introduced in earlier printings, and located copies of the illustrated edition, the Armed Services Edition, and the Autograph Edition. We rarely see a copy of a work that Cather herself owned, however, so when we were assembling copies of Death Comes for the Archbishop and Robert Kurth showed us his copy of this book in the 1930 illustrated English edition, a copy that Cather had owned, we were immediately interested.
The copy we saw was from the second English edition of 1930, comprising sheets of the 1929 American second edition with an altered title page imprint, bound in England. In this copy we found a number of signs of Cather's ownership that transform the forematter of this copy of the book into a personal scrapbook. The questions that struck us immediately were—what meaning did these signs have? and then, more generally, why did Cather seem to be so closely attached to this particular edition of Death Comes for the Archbishop?
Answers to these questions are necessarily provisional since there is little external material to throw light on Cather's intentions; we must begin by looking at the evidence itself and make what inferences we can. For the first question, about meaning, the evidence consists of the above-mentioned signs of Cather's ownership. The first sign is her signature on the front end paper and her parenthetical phrase below it "(personal copy)," both of which receive contextual significance from having been written on Harold von Schmidt's beautiful double-page end-paper illustration, in light brown, of a desert scene. Cather wrote her name right in the middle of a beautiful cumulus cloud in the artist's landscape of the Southwest.
As we turn the end paper over, we find a folded letter pasted onto the back. Unfolded, the letter holds a snapshot of Kit Carson (figure 1). The letter is to Cather from Agnes Thompson of Lawrence, Kansas, dated 31 January 1928:
This would have been a double pleasure for Cather: a photo to remind her of her portrait of Kit Carson in Death Comes for the Archbishop and a letter from a grateful and obviously satisfied reader.
On the blank recto preceding the limitation page, Cather pasted a colored block-print of an adobe church. The presence of this print indicates Cather's attachment to the novel's southwestern setting. The half-title page that follows contains a drawing by von Schmidt, whose three drawings accompanied the publication in Forum magazine.
But the contents page holds a bigger surprise, more intimate even than the others: Cather pasted on this page a photograph of herself on horseback in a gravel-bed stream (figure 2). By doing this she placed herself imaginatively in the scene and, symbolically, as a character along with the two priests, Padre Martinez, and Dona Isabella in the southwestern landscape of her own narrative. This identification is deepened markedly in the next signs of her ownership: on facing pages 16 and 17, following the prologue, Cather pasted photographs of herself, again on horseback, this time different views in the same sage-brushed southwestern scenery. Her photograph, on the half-title page ("The Vicar Apostolic") and at the advent of Father Latour's journey, places her prominently in symbolic alignment with him (figure 3). These photos are an outward sign of her inward spiritual kinship with him. Now the second question becomes central: why did she place these significant signs of attachment in this printing and not in one of the first edition?
One answer to this question we can immediately discard. The 1930 Heinemann edition of Death Comes for the Archbishop was made up of sheets of the 1929 American edition (trade issue), so the Heinemann text differs as the 1929 American trade issue differs from the first edition: it shows the correction of two typographical errors in the first edition while following the first edition in all other respects. Nor would Cather's response to her story have changed from that which we find in the 1927 letter to Commonweal magazine describing her emotional involvement in the writing of the book ("On Death"). There she describes the Old World connections of Death Comes for the Archbishop that underlie her attraction to the priests: their natural values. The Hans Holbein woodcut, the Pierre Puvis de Chavannes murals, the Jean-George Vibert painting, and the French priest Machebeuf's letters—all point to a world Cather valued, one in which innocence, authenticity, earnest faith, and natural values found important places and one that contrasted sharply with the world she lived in.
In the Commonweal letter Cather described the happiness she experienced in the writing of her narrative: "Writing this book .. . was like a happy vacation from life, a return to childhood, to early memories. . . . As a human being, I had the pleasure of paying an old debt of gratitude to the valiant men whose life and work had given me so many hours of pleasant reflection in far-away places where certain unavoidable accidents and physical discomforts gave me a feeling of close kinship with them" ("On Death" 11-12). Seen in this way, the process of composition was for her a form of communion with a moral order she missed in her own milieu.
Neither differences in the text nor changes in Cather's feeling about her book explain her personal attachment to this particular edition. Another and better answer to the question of why Cather was so attracted to the illustrated printing lies in the nontextual differences between the two editions. There are at least four such differences. Three of them—the typefaces, the page design, and the overall book design of the 1929 Knopf illustrated edition—may profitably be considered together.
Knopf selected Elmer Adler to design the illustrated edition. Adler was a sophisticated designer whose considerable taste and skill is evident throughout the book. He made several significant contributions to the edition, the first of which was his selection of typefaces. Knowing that an English type designer, Stanley Morison, had cut a series of facsimile typefaces from Renaissance forms for the monotype machine in the early twenties, Adler saw that these matches of one designer's roman type, such as Francesco Griffo's (named Poliphilus), with another's italic type, such as Ludovico degli Arrighi's (named Blado), were not only important innovations but also symbolically appropriate and apposite to a description of the world of the priests. Adler chose these Renaissance facsimiles for Death Comes for the Archbishop. Robert Bringhurst has described Poliphilus and Blado as the Monotype Corporation's copy, made in 1923, of a roman font cut in Venice in 1499 by Francisco Griffo. It was an early experiment in the resuscitation of Renaissance designs, and the Monotype draftsmen copied the actual letterpress impression, including much of the ink squash, instead of paring back the printed forms to intuit what the punch cutter had carved. The result is a rough, somewhat rumpled yet charming face, like a Renaissance aristocrat, unshaven and in stockinged feet, caught between the bedroom and the bath. . . . The italic companion to Poliphilus is based not on one of Griffo's own superb italics but on a font designed by Ludovico degli Arrighe about 1526.(182)
Bringhurst describes Renaissance letter forms as having "a modulated stroke (the width varies with direction) and a humanist axis. This means that the letters have the form produced by a broad-nib pen held in the right hand in a comfortable and relaxed writing position. The thick strokes run NW/SE, the axis of the writer's hand and forearm" (113). These sixteenth-century type forms were derived from the handwritten scribal forms in manuscripts. Poliphilus was thus a font code that made a literary allusion to the Renaissance (McGann 57). Adler's choice of a Renaissance humanist typeface was thus appropriate to Cather's narrative of her archbishop.
In the illustrated edition one can see, in addition to the humanist axis of the individual letter forms, the additional and unusual features of the Poliphilus typeface. There are ligatures—several "st" (lines 7, 8, 9), "ct" (line 9), "fl" (line 8), and "fi" (line 4)—and two canted hyphens (lines 1and 8). The Poliphilus letter forms themselves, with these features, give an antique, rural, and decidedly handwritten look to the text.
The second of these design differences between the first edition and the illustrated edition is the page design. A sample page of Poliphilus also shows the relation of the typeblock (that part of the page occupied by text) to the page on which it is set: the typeblock is almost as wide as it is high—width 4½ inches, height 5½ inches—whereas the typeblock in many modern pages is characteristically not as wide and substantially longer. The placement of the typeblock on this unusual page (7¾ X 11 inches) makes for a long horizontal line of text, with a wide and short column of type.
Bringhurst thinks that this long line and wide column are "a sign, generally speaking, that the emphasis is on the writing instead of the reading, and that writing is seen as an instrument of power, not an instrument of freedom" (145). About a tall column of type (one longer than Adler's choice for the page design of Death Comes for the Archbishop), Bringhurst observes that it is "a symbol of fluency, a sign that the typographer does not expect the reader to have to puzzle out the words. . . . A little more width [in the column, or typeblock] not only gives the text more presence; it implies that it might be worth savoring, quoting and reading again" (147). This I believe is exactly the effect of Adler's choice of a wide and short column of typeblock—emphasis on the writing rather than on the reading: Adler means for the reader to take care, perhaps even to deliberate, when reading Cather's narrative.
The third difference between a copy of the first edition and one of the illustrated is the way in which the illustrations were incorporated into the text. This incorporation occurred in two ways: the placement of the 10 full-page drawings as introductions to the 10 parts of the book, and the placement of the 48 smaller drawings in the typeblock of single pages throughout the book. These smaller drawings are either headpieces placed at the beginning of a section at the top of a typeblock or tailpieces at the end of a section at the bottom of a typeblock or at midpage in the typeblock.
The overall book design (typefaces, illustrations, squarish page size, heavy paper with uncut pages) produces an old-fashioned look, a printing that has the distinctive handmade look of having been crafted at a country press. It is significant that in 1934, as Knopf and Cather were consulting about the design for Lucy Gayheart, she revealed to him that she had wanted Death Comes for the Archbishop to look like it had been printed on a country press, an impression she did not want Lucy Gayheart to have (Knopf). Certainly the 1930 English illustrated edition of Death Comes for the Archbishop (like the 1929 American edition from which it is derived) resembles more closely a book printed on a country press than does the first edition. And this leads us directly to the most obvious difference between the first and second editions, the illustrations.
Von Schmidt, as Polly Duryea describes him, was a "San Francisco illustrator, painter, and lithographer who portrayed subjects of the Old West, . . . 'Dutch' Von Schmidt served as President of the New York Society of Illustrators and the Westport Artists during his career. Von Schmidt illustrated for the Saturday Evening Post for 20 years." (293). Chosen by the editors of Forum magazine to provide drawings for the serial appearance of Death Comes for the Archbishop, von Schmidt made three of them, two large ones featuring the archbishop and one tailpiece of the cathedral, all three appearing throughout the text as head-and tailpieces for each of the six installments of the narrative.
Knopf in his memoirs did observe that, as they were preparing this edition, the artist "was extremely slow in delivering and did not keep to promised dates." Von Schmidt answered Adler's call for 58 cuts with line and wash drawings of varying size—many considerably larger than the resulting cuts; this may account for the delay. In any case, we learn of von Schmidt's collaboration with Cather on this book as he describes his working approach: I worked for two years on these sixty-odd drawings for Willa Cather's beautifully written story of old New Mexico. She had insisted with her publisher that I do the illustrations, and my dealings were all with her directly. I made pencil roughs, and we talked over the approach to take. We disagreed on some things, but I felt that her characters were so well realized in words that it would be a mistake for me to depict them too and possibly confuse the reader whose interpretations of her words might be different from mine. So I did the pictures as decorations that would set the background for the story and help the audience get to know the old New Mexico as she knew it and as I knew it. About six years later, I got a letter from her thanking me for insisting on doing it the way I wanted. (Reed 206-07) Thus the two drawings of the archbishop in the book—the drawing of him praying before the cruciform tree that preceeds book I and the headpiece to section I of book 9 showing him in his garden—each show him subordinated to a larger natural setting.
Von Schmidt's decision to do the pictures as "decorations" was, I think, especially appropriate to Cather's own style of legend, which she saw as "absolutely the reverse of dramatic treatment. . . . In the Golden Legend, "she wrote in the Commonweal letter, "the martyrdoms of the saints are no more dwelt upon than are the trivial incidents of their lives; it is though all human experiences, measured against one supreme spiritual experience, were of about the same importance" ("On Death" 9). Von Schmidt's drawings, especially the head- and tailpieces, present scenes of everyday human life in the Old West and measure this life against vast scenes of natural beauty and power; they convey the ever present sense of religious devotion underlying the priests' lives and work. His drawings frequently evoke the setting of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes's fresco murals of the daily life of St. Genevieve in the Parthenon, which contributed to Cather's sense of the shape of the story: everyday life lived in earnest faith.
But Von Schmidt's work is important for a reason other than simple evocation: many of his drawings provide a new context for reading the text itself. The prologue of the book, of course, is set in Rome. On page two, opposite the opening of the prologue, Adler placed a full-page drawing and on the first page of the text of the prologue he placed a headpiece. Both drawings depict scenes of human presence in a vast natural setting in the American Southwest, not in the Sabine Hills of Rome mentioned in the first paragraph of the text. Rather, these illustrations set the New World background of the priest's visit to the Vatican: the two priests with their donkey in the full-page drawing set the scene at the Vatican, the cardinals, and the bishop within a far vaster and grander scheme. In these scenes nature is a powerful force; the humans in them struggle to endure. We see in these illustrations a desire to render the values of a simple faith against the backdrop of an overwhelming natural landscape. At this point, then, the text is not the same: as the reader begins to read the story, the perception of Cather's Roman setting is framed and colored by scenes of old New Mexico; the reader is not placed by these illustrations in the context of the new Old Rome. We are reminded that the intellectual and moral world of Rome is not that of New Mexico, a point the American bishop emphasizes in the text.
Another example of this graphic signifying is the heavily illustrated book 9 with its 12 inked drawings. These 12 drawings, along with the other design elements, set up what McGann has called "a reading field and set of interpretive possibilities" that are quite different from those presented by the first edition. The beginning of the final chapter is framed by a full-page picture of the cathedral; facing it on the opposite page is a headpiece of Latour in his Tesuque pueblo garden. In the first paragraph of the text Cather presents Latour's state of mind in a letter to his sister: "I am enjoying to the full that period of reflection which is the happiest conclusion to a life of action" (1930 ed., 301). His garden was his recreation but his cathedral was "a continuation of himself and his purpose, a physical body full of his aspirations after he had passed from the scene" (199). So the reader begins this final chapter immersed in representations of self: Latour's self, manifest in the cathedral and explicit in the Tesuque garden. The cathedral is the visible sign of his aspiration and devotion, the garden a visible sign of his cultivation of the spirit. This chapter begins and ends with a cut of the cathedral: "He felt safe under its shadow; like a boat come back to harbour, lying under its own sea-wall" (310).
A final example of the influence of these illustrations in creating a new way of reading the text is the group of remaining illustrations in book 9 and their congruence with the text. They are all scenes of the Southwest that the retrospective threads of Latour's memories touch here and there. The topography of the diocese depicted in the drawings parallels not only Father Latour's memories of place but also, in them, his conscious preference for the New World over the Old World, for the "light-hearted mornings of the desert" over "the society of learned men, the charm of noble women, the graces of art" (313). We are thus reminded of the case Ferrand makes in the prologue for the New World. His description of the vital feature "he had come back to die in exile for the sake of" was the air, dry and aromatic: "one could breathe that only on the bright edges of the world, on the great grass plains on the sage-brush desert" (313). This air, the sense of space and of presettlement lightness, Latour describes with a clarity almost prelapsarian: "Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!" (313-14).
These cuts parallel Latour's review of his life and the value of it. They show a vast mountain-plain scene, deer on the plains, the two priests and Magdalena, a train crossing the plain, horses and a dog around a hacienda, an antelope roundup, a scene of a valley among the mountains, a woman looking out over a herd in the desert, two priests and a nun around Latour's bed, and a view of the cathedral. One of the last images Latour recalls is that of Canyon de Chelly (one of Cather's fondest memories of the Southwest): crops were growing, "sheep were grazing under the magnificent cottonwoods and drinking at the streams of sweet water; it was like an Indian Garden of Eden" (339). This was not nostalgia: "He sat in the middle of his own consciousness; none of his former states of mind were lost or outgrown. They were all within reach of his hand, and all comprehensible"(313). He had shaped the old New Mexico as best he could to his own pastoral dream.
From studying the placement of these drawings in the text, one can infer the presence of the designer, measuring out the text in typeblocks for each page and anticipating the need for illustrations of a certain size to fill the typeblock space. For example, section I of book I, "The Cruciform Tree," has a drawing at its close on mid-page 28. This tailpiece—a shepherd boy with goats—serves both to close section I and to open section 2, "Hidden Water." Similarly, the text for book I ends on page 58 and calls for a drawing of a certain measure: a drawing of a priest (possibly Latour) looking out over an expanse toward Santa Fe fills out exactly the typeblock space of 3½ inches x 4⅜ inches. From this evidence we may also infer the necessary collaboration of Adler, von Schmidt, and Cather in the design of the book—all plans of course carried out, as Hellman reports, most carefully by Alfred A. Knopf (Bennett 65-6).
These four differences between the first and the illustrated edition—the typefaces, the page design, the book design, and the illustrations—all join to produce the effect Cather had wished: that it look like it had been printed on a country press. And all these effects together led her to prefer the illustrated over the first edition.
Although we have seen too few of Cather's personal copies of her works to generalize, it seems likely that she had a particular attachment to Death Comes for the Archbishop, an attachment based on her love for and identification with its southwestern setting and the values espoused by its central characters. In any case, we have argued that she had a special sense of identification with the illustrated edition. Adler's design—the antique typefaces, atypical page size, stubby typeblock, and unusual margins—together with von Schmidt's illustrations and Adler's placement of them, led her to personalize a copy of this edition rather than one of the first Knopf edition.
In Adler, Cather found a designer who could emphasize the text of the book as an expression of both religious faith and natural values. In von Schmidt Cather found an artist who readily adopted a method appropriate to her own style of legend: in his illustrations he set the old New Mexico before the reader, balancing realism with idealization in describing the everyday events of human life. He subordinated these events to both the natural scene and a higher reality—the power of faith in the priests' lives that Cather measured out in the text. The result of their collaboration led to an edition that Cather agreed might be reprinted instead of the first Knopf edition and one with which she could identify because it allowed her the optimum opportunity to align her intellectual and emotional life with those of her priests. Adler's design emphasized the permanence and stability of the past; von Schmidt's illustrations presented the eternal values reflected in the characters of Fathers Latour and Valliant against the majesty and sweep of the southwestern landscape, subordinating the events of their lives to that landscape and to the higher reality above and beyond it. The drawings and the design of the illustrated edition seem, for Cather personally, to have realized more fully her artistic intentions for the work. Designer, illustrator, and author transform her narrative, in the illustrated edition, into a golden legend of the West. And in this particular copy of it, Cather reveals her own desire to be part of that legend.
I wish to acknowledge my friend and colleague Frederick Link for his suggestions in transforming a paper given at the 1995 Quebec Cather Conference into this article.
Sidney R. Jacobs, vice-president of production at Alfred A. Knopf, described Adler as "proprietor of the Pynson Printers, co-editor of The Colophon, collector of rare volumes, lecturer at Princeton University, and founder of La Casa del Libro in San Juan."
Adler designed eight Borzoi books for Knopf:
Lawrance Thompson reports that Adler was awarded a gold medal by the American Institute of Graphic Arts for his work as "publisher, printer,editor, collector and teacher." (20)(Go back.)